February 28, 2014

March Madness Marathon of Reading Sign-up

Juliana is hosting this wonderful month-long read-a-thon, which you can sign up for HERE. The "goal of the challenge is to push yourself: to read more in one month that you think yourself capable of doing". Challenge accepted! As usual, I'll make this read-a-thon not page count oriented, but time oriented. I pledge to read instead of losing my time in the Internet, that I do. But I may have to study a lot, and this I will not put aside in order to read :) 

I've also decided to make it about finishing books (and narrowing my currently reading pile to one, ideally), and here are the books I started a couple of days, weeks or even months before, but haven't finished yet. I hope March will be the month for me to accomplish this!

There are also two read-a-long events that I'm planning to participate in, and here are the books we will be reading:

Moreover, I'd like to throw in some fantasy and historical fiction, and I will choose from the following: 

I also have quite some Arthurian books downloaded, but they are in different formats (DjVu, PDF) and some of them I can't read on my e-reader, which is a bad thing as I can't sit in front of the computer and not get distracted. But I hope I'll still read a couple of them :)

Ah, so many books, so little time! Now, I'm prepared for March and eager to read more than usual! :)

Happy beginning of spring to everybody!

February 27, 2014

Dead Man's Tale by Joanna Chmielewska (Review)

Title: Dead Man's Tale
Author: Joanna Chmielewska
First published: 1972
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I was not sure if I should write about this book at all, as according to Wikipedia there are no English translations of Chmielewska's books. Or at least there were no in 2008, and I doubt anything has changed since then... But I thought "hey, I'm trying to be multilingual here, so to heck with it!" :)

The novel is an "ironical detective" bordering with chick-lit. My mom recommended me the book, otherwise there's no way I would have picked it. My mom also doesn't often read this kind of literature, but she swore it was really funny. Well, it did turn out to be funny, but only after I had got used to the overly simplistic and over-the-top writing style. Who would have thought that I'll need time to get used to pulp?

The novel tells about a middle-aged woman who happens to hear the last words of a dying gang member and is left the only bearer of the secret where the gang's vast funds are hidden. The gang smuggle her to Argentina and try to make her speak, but she is not an easy person to scare into doing something, so she rather prefers to escape. What follows is a mad around-the-world chase, in which female "logic" always triumphs.

It was really funny how she deals with problems in her own, female way. Like measuring petrol needed to cross the Atlantic in wash-basins, knitting a net to hold the steering will when she can't switch on the auto-pilot on a yacht and many more. It's interesting that she IS really clever, and is able to infer her coordinates from the position of the sun and the stars, for example, but sometimes she relapses in such a true-blonde fit, that it's totally impossible to predict what she'll do next.

In my book:
A nice and funny relaxing read if you don't care about your brain turning to mash from the lack of substance :) I don't sometimes :)

February 26, 2014

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin (Review)

Title: A Feast for Crows
Author: George R.R. Martin
First published: 2005
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This is so far the most disappointing book in the series. Just for the reference - I had read the first one before I started this blog (and I really don't need to say that it was amazing), and I posted about book 2 HERE and about book 3 HERE. The second book felt like an in-between for me when I was reading it, but now I know better. The real in-between in the series is this book four. Well, unless all the next books will be the same quality, in which case I'll quit. If I can, of course :)

Now, don't get me wrong, it is still very well-written, it still has some wonderful world-building, as we get introduced to new places and new characters, BUT! Speaking of characters, I think everyone will agree that they are the most important thing in the book. I don't know about you, but I really CARE for some of them, and unfortunately those were the ones that didn't make it to book 4. Martin wrote so much that no edition could hold it, so he decided to split the book, but regionally and thematically rather than chronologically. This particular novel focuses on King's Landing, Dorne, Iron Islands, Oldtown and Braavos, where nothing really exciting happens, and the only POV I care for in this book is Arya, who is also not in the middle of any important events.

Moreover, there are many new or even one-time POVs, which means there is a lot of prehistory for each of them, and most of it is for nothing, because some of them are in the book just to show what is happening in a particular place. I was very excited to discover that Cersei is a new POV, as I LOVED how Jaime was transformed from a bad guy to a good guy after he became a POV character. But nothing like this happened with Cersei. Seeing everything with her eyes didn't make me sympathize with her actions at all. On the bright side, I do like Arianne, and I hope she will continue to be an important POV character in the series.

Some plot lines seemed to be just fillers or were plain ridiculous. For example, Martin makes Brienne tour the most far away and insignificant corners of Westeros for QUITE SOME pages, but it doesn't serve the plot at all. She could have equally well spent her time lying somewhere being ill, for all I care. The Iron Islands plot line is more lively, but is utterly unbelievable. I mean, HOW could people with a medieval thinking make such a decision on a kingsmoot? As Stanislavsky used to say, "I don't believe".

OK, that was more of a rant than of a review, but I was really disappointed. When I take an Ice and Fire book I expect to be thrilled, enraged, surprised... Well, INVOLVED! I was not. I even put it aside for some time to read something else. That would not be possible with the earlier books. I only hope that book five which tells about all my favourite characters will be awesome enough to atone for this one.

In my book:
It was not good enough for me. The weakest book in the series so far.

February 20, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Review)

Title: A Tale of Two Cities
Author: Charles Dickens
First published: 1854
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

I must confess I haven't read enough Dickens in my life. I read Oliver Twist when I was a child and I remember it was gloomy and depressing and rather dull. In my teens I read an adapted version of Nicholas Nickleby for my English classes and all the while I was reading it I was wondering why write two books with the same plot. In my defense I can only point out that it was again all about a small boy against the world and that I wasn't paying much attention. In the university I pretended to read only highbrow stuff and gave The Pickwick Papers a try. I struggled through the first half of it and then gave up. It was funny in the beginning, but then it became repetitive and unbearably detailed. Or maybe I was just impatient due to my flourishing and complicated private life at that time :)

The first Dickens I actually liked was A Christmas Carol, which I read a year ago. I could finally appreciate the writing, and the story was not overly long. Then was an unhappy choice of The Old Curiosity Shop, which left me totally frustrated when I finally finished it after dragging through it for three months.

So overall my experience with Dickens was not very enjoyable. However, I am happy to announce that I've finally found a Dickens novel I LOVE, and this is of course A Tale of Two Cities. I was expecting a difficult read, and it was rather difficult in the beginning, but then I got used to the writing and I totally loved it! The descriptions are very vivid and metaphorical, the narrative flows in and out of places and people's heads, and oh the repetitions! How I loved the repetitions! There is something from music in them...

Apart from choosing a setting which cannot be dull per se - the French Revolution, Dickens has knitted (yeah, this word!) a wonderful and gripping plot for his book. Parts of it don't make sense in the beginning, but then everything falls into place. Some things are of course predictable, but that makes them long-expected rather than boring. And the ending is just... Well, you need to read it yourself, because my writing is unequal to giving it the credit it deserves.

I'd like to particularly note female characters in this novel. Usually Dickensian women are either saccharine and useless or mad and evil. Here, however, they have more depth. OK, Lucie IS stereotypically sweet, but she also has quite some courage and is surprisingly tough. But think about Therese Defarge! I don't think I've seen anybody quite like her in literature! "A great woman, <...> a strong woman, a grand woman, a frightfully grand woman!" And consider Miss Pross with her brave "you shall not get the better of me. I am an Englishwoman". Overall, according to Dickens, women made revolution. They suffer, but remember, persist, support their husbands and never give up. That's quite impressive! 

In my book:
An exceptionally well-written novel! My favourite Dickens so far! :)

February 16, 2014

Book Market Spoils

There has been a book market in my town today! They were selling used books in English for reduced prices! I though I'd share the books I've adopted today :)

I've heard a lot of good things about all of them, so I'm really happy to have found them. And look at this cute vintage postcard they gave me as a present! Very appropriate!

Sooo guys and gals, which one do you think I should start with? (As soon as I finish the stuff I'm already reading, of course) :)

February 12, 2014

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl (Review)

Title: The Dante Club
Author: Matthew Pearl
First published: 2003
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This novel is a literary detective set in Boston shortly after the Civil War, when the first American translation of Divine Comedy into English was being done. While the Dante Club, a society of poets, is concerned with the nuances of meaning and word choices, horrible murders start to happen in the city, and only the members of the club can see that they copy the tortures of Dante's Inferno.

I really liked the premise, but wasn't very impressed with the novel itself. To begin with, I didn't appreciate graphic descriptions of the tortures. With my unhealthy imagination, flesh eating maggots can easily spoil not only my meals but also my sleep, which they did. Also, the writing was not my thing. I can't even say what was wrong with it, but I fell asleep even at the most suspenseful and revealing parts.

I'm not an expert in mysteries as I don't read them often, but I do know that I prefer a close circle of suspects. I enjoy guessing who did it, betting with myself and changing my opinion as new evidence turns up. Here, new characters keep appearing all the time, and soon you just stop guessing, because you know somebody much more suitable will be introduced soon.

This said, the historical setting was really interesting: post-war and post-slavery problems, literary discussions, immigrants, police work - all these aspects of Boston life in the nineteenth century are important parts of the story, and this makes it quite educational.

In my book:
A nice historical mystery, but not my cup of tea.

I read this for Plagues Witches and War: The World of Historical Fiction Book Club, which is a wonderful group that you totally need to check out! :)

February 5, 2014

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (Review)

Title: At the Mountains of Madness
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
First published: 1936
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This was my first Lovecraft and unfortunately I was not in the least impressed. Tell me, have I started at the wrong place? It seemed a proper place, though. I mean, what can go wrong with the remnants of an old and mysterious civilization found deep in the Antarctic? It's an AWESOME plot! However, the way the story is written robs it of all its awesomeness.

The first problem is that everything is told, not shown. It can be a successful literary device, but in a horror story it's totally anticlimactic. (There are spoilers ahead, but I don't believe they will affect your reading because the story is plain and devoid of suspense anyway) Let me give you an example. Part of the expedition has disappeared. Another part comes to the place where their last camp was and see something HORRIBLE, which the narrator CAN'T SPEAK ABOUT, which HAS RUINED HIS LIFE... Then he proceeds to tell what fake story they have reported, what was done next, and only like 40 pages after, when he is already in some other place, does he give some hint of what was exactly seen. I, as a reader, am already pissed off and ready to through the book out of the window.

Another thing that bothered me is that they never actually SEE those elder creatures, although they do come to life. They see only the traces of their actions and their dead bodies. How do the explorers then know about what was life like for them? From reliefs! They are able to tell the whole story of that old civilization from just looking at the reliefs adorning the walls for a couple of hours. Has Lovecraft ever tried to interpret a relief in his life? As someone who has studied the history of art for three years, I tell you it's not that easy! Unless of course their art is really different from ours, but then they would not be able to understand it anyway.

And, of course, the writing. It's so descriptive that it just makes me sleepy. For more than 50 pages they explore the old city, looking at the reliefs and having some horrible premonitions. No less than 5 times the narrator compares the scenery with that on Roerich's pictures. OK, OK, Lovecraft, calm down! I got it from the first mention already! It's no necessary to emphasize how in awe of Roerich you are...

In my book:
Wonderful premise, but pitiful realization.

February 3, 2014

A Winter's Respite Read-a-Thon: Wrap-Up

The read-a-thon ended yesterday, and it's time to wrap-up! Let's see how successful I was with my goals, shall we?
  1. Read two chapters from Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban in Spanish to catch up with Hillary - DONE! She was at the end of chapter 8, and I'm already half into chapter 9!
  2. Catch up with Paradise Lost Readalong, which basically means to read three more parts - awww, not so good! I read one chapter, so now I'm only two chapters back... It's just soo much work trying to figure out what's happening there!
  3. Finish The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth - DONE! I've also read Life of Merlin which was in the same book. The reviews are HERE.
  4. Read some more from A Feast for Crows as a reward for doing everything mentioned above :) - DONE! I've read around 270 pages. Unfortunately, it's not half as exciting as the previous book... oh, well, I hope the fifth one is better
And here is additional stuff that I managed to read last week:
  1. At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft - finished yesterday
  2. Started reading The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl 
All in all, it was a very successful week, reading-wise! Now I hope to keep up the good pace even without a read-a-thon :)


February 1, 2014

Geoffrey of Monmouth's works

Title: The History of the Kings of Britain
Author: Geoffrey of Monmouth
First published Written: 1136
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Geoffrey of Monmouth is the one who laid the foundation for Arthur's insane popularity, as he was the first to collect all the legends and stories about him, put them into historical context and present as truth. Geoffrey claims that his work is just a translation of some "certain very ancient book written in the British language", but the truth is that he just mixed whatever written sources he has read with some Welsh myths he has heard and spiced the story up with some fictitious adornments to make it exciting. Although The History of the Kings of Britain had been considered a serious historical work for some time, now it should be read more as a historical fiction or fantasy. Nor is it less gripping than the modern books of these genres.

Geoffrey starts the history of Britons with the story of Trojan Aeneas, which he totally ripped off from Virgil. Aeneas's grandson Brutus is banished from Italy where his people now reside and has to colonize Britain. After battling some giants to free the island for settling, he becomes the first of the kings of Britons. Geoffrey tells about all the subsequent kings chronologically, but he has his favorites, and while some of them get two lines, the deeds of others occupy tens of pages. Among the characters most beloved by Geoffrey are: King Lear, Cassibelanus, Vortigern and of course Arthur.

Unlike Nennius, who only lists Arthur's battles, Geoffrey describes his life in detail. There is a totally amazing story of his conception (not without the help of Merlin!), the story of his battles and the conquest of half of Europe and the account of his death and departure to Avalon after a wound inflicted in the battle against his treacherous nephew Mordred. All the basic elements of the subsequent retellings are there, but it is still a legend, not a fully developed story. We don't know much about the character of Arthur of his followers, there is no explanation of Mordred's treason and Guinevere's behavior. There is no sword in the stone as yet, no famous knights surrounding him, no Grail and no real charm in the story. But it's a beginning, and a fascinating beginning for all that.

In my book:
This is a good place to start exploring Arthur story, but it's important to remember that most of the book is Geoffrey's fantasy :)

Title: Life of Merlin
Author: Geoffrey of Monmouth
First published Written: 1150
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Unlike The History of the Kings of Britain, Life of Merlin is a story in verse, and it doesn't concern Arthur at all. It tells about Merlin as a mad prophet, who went off his head and withdrew to the forests after the death of his two brothers. After that, his wife and sister are constantly trying to drag him back to civilization, but in his short relapses he makes his horrifyingly true but cynical and indiscreet predictions and runs away again. Finally, he trains some apprentice prophets and dies in the forests after foreseeing the future of Britain.

The story would have been amazing, if the second half of it was not filled with the useless information about birds, fishes, geography, physics and what not taken from Etymologiae by Isidore of Seville. These educational passages were really tiresome to read.

In my book:
A lovely poem composed of several fable-like stories. With the omission of the "etymological" parts would be really precious.

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